"Heart of Gold" is a song by Canadian singer-songwriter Neil Young. Released from the 1972 album Harvest, it is so far Young's only U.S. #1 single. In Canada, it reached #1 on the RPMnational singles chart for the first time on April 8, 1972, on which date Young held the top spot on both the singles and albums charts. In 2004, Rolling Stone ranked it #297 on their list of the 500 greatest songs of all time.
The song, which features backup vocals of James Taylor and Linda Ronstadt, is one of a series of soft acoustic pieces which were written partly as a result of a back injury. Unable to stand for long periods of time, Young could not play his electric guitar and so returned to his acoustic guitar, which he could play sitting down. He also played his harmonica during the three instrumental portions, including the Introduction to the song. 
"Heart of Gold" was taped during the initial sessions for Harvest in early 1971 at Quadrafonic Sound Studios in Nashville, Tennessee. Ronstadt (who herself would later cover Young's song "Love is a Rose") and Taylor were in Nashville at the time for an appearance on Johnny Cash's television program, and the album's producer Elliot Mazer arranged for them to sing backup for Young in the studio.
Originally this song was meant to segue with "A Man Needs a Maid", and was therefore played on piano. It was played in this manner during Young's solo shows in 1971, but he abandoned this approach midway through the tour and began to play it on guitar as it is now known. Additionally, one line that was cut when the two songs became separate entities was "Afraid/A man feels afraid" An example of the segued version appears on Young's 2007 release Live at Massey Hall 1971.
Young wrote in the liner notes of his 1977 compilation album Decade: "This song put me in the middle of the road. Traveling there soon became a bore so I headed for the ditch. A rougher ride but I saw more interesting people there." This statement was in response to the mainstream popularity that he gained as a result of the number-one status of "Heart of Gold".
The only time it bothered me that someone sounded like me was when I was living in Phoenix, Arizona, in about '72 and the big song at the time was "Heart of Gold." I used to hate it when it came on the radio. I always liked Neil Young, but it bothered me every time I listened to "Heart of Gold." I think it was up at number one for a long time, and I'd say, "Shit, that's me. If it sounds like me, it should as well be me."
"Heart of Gold" has been covered by Tanya Donelly, Matchbox Twenty, Tori Amos, Free Dominguez, Johnny Cash, Richard Lloyd, Bettye Lavette, Birds and Batteries, Zakk Wylde (withBlack Label Society), Boney M, Carla Cook, Lawrence Gowan, Stereophonics, Rockapella, Roxette, Kiki Dee, The Polyphonic Spree, Backburner, Hanah, Ossifar, the James Last Orchestra, Five for Five, Sally Dworsky, Channeling Owen, Stoney LaRue, The Bad Plus, Dave Matthews, Jimmy Buffett (with the Coral Reefer Band), Tavi Gevinson, Charles Bradley, and as a Karaokebacking track. It is also heard briefly in the 1984 film Iceman.
In 2005, "Heart of Gold" was named the third greatest Canadian song of all time on the CBC Radio One series 50 Tracks: The Canadian Version. It ranked behind only Barenaked Ladies' "If I Had $1000000" and Ian and Sylvia's "Four Strong Winds" (which itself was covered by Young on his 1978 album Comes a Time).
The song was included (along with Young's song "Harvest Moon)" on the soundtrack of the 2010 movie Eat Pray Love and is referenced in "You and I" by Lady Gaga with the line "On my birthday you sang me A Heart of Gold/With a guitar humming in overloads".
|U.S. Billboard Hot 100||1|
|Canadian RPM Top Singles||1|
|Norwegian Singles Chart||4|
|Dutch Top 40||8|
|U.K. Singles Chart||10|